Archive | November, 2010

the runaways – another movie about musicians, this time by Sigismondi

25 Nov

Floria Sigismondi

After reminding myself the most beloved and most hated movies about rock stars that I have ever watched, finally I decided to watch The Runaways – a silver screen debut by the amazing director known for her brilliant photography and artwork in the field of music videos.

Yes, Floria Sigismondi directed her first movie and personally, I think it’s not a coincidence that it’s basically the type of the movie that we already know pretty well – not a musical, not a film biography but something in between. A genre which, in its own, has many great examples such as The Doors by Oliver Stone, Walk the Line by James Mangold or I’m Not There by Todd Haynes. When I heard of the movie by Sigismondi, I was really excited to see it since I value her work a great deal. She’s done most thought provoking, most aesthetically thrillilng videos ever for such different artists as Marilyn Manson, Christina Aguillera, Sigur Rós, Page & Plant etc. The features of her work which are most easy to notice are a little “dusty”, grey colors (she’s a photographer as well), jittery camera and unnatural movements of the people she depicts – they move more like mannequins or puppets which on its own is fascinating. In fact Sigismondi is an Italian-born, raised Canadian daughter of a couple who worked for an opera house, so she’s absolutely familiar with music and with musical performance.

The second point was The Runaways itself. I’m not a huge fan of the band, although many believe it’s the first rock girlsband in history, still… the turn of 1970’s and 1980’s is, in my own belief, a pretty mediocre part of the history of popular music, with only a few classical examples being outstanding (but my taste revolves here mainly around prog rock and a few punk bands cause, even though it has some amazing examples, I cannot really consider new wave being rock). I do love Joan Jett though and, frankly, I watched this movie mainly for the character of Jett and for Sigismondi.

Joan Jett and Cherie Currie

I was surprised. It’s not a major movie which will become part of the film history. But I have seen so many bad movies about musicians and/or specific phenomena in the history of popular music, that I had full right to be afraid of what would this movie be like. I was content. Not necessarily amazed but very, very content with what I got. The story is not especially thrilling. But it’s told in a correct way, it tells the story of the band as well as the story of individual members of the band, it shows the atmosphere around being a rock star, the damage one is suffering when becoming a rock star, and all these, already iconic, issues such as the complex and difficult relationship between a performer – his or her audience – and publicity. Nothing new, you can say. Sure. But Sigismondi, not being really creative, is also not disappointing. It’s not a movie that gets you tired and frustrated the first 10 minutes just because it tries to be “different” than anything else and, hence, becomes completely messed and impossible to understand.

Three most important things for me, however, are: Sigismondi’s amazing photography (the movie is just aesthetically beautiful!), the character of Joan Jett (played by the Twilight saga star Kristen Stewart) and the somehow subversive, ambivalent part of the movie – about being a teenager, being a girl in a man’s world, being perhaps sexually different, a lesbian or a bisexual (Sigismondi is a happily married lesbian herself).

These are the parts of the movie I enjoyed most. Mainly because I completely hate all the movies dealing with the difficult matter of puberty, teenage sexuality and the moment when a teenage girl realizes she’s a woman in a… let’s say… somewhat male world. 90% of the movies dealing with the subject end up either being sermon on the disadvantages of doing drugs and having casual, premarital sex; or they are emo shit-stories which are popular at the moment with all these children whining about being depressed, unhappy and rioting against the whole world in their outfits I cannot even afford living in the less privileged part of the world, huh…

Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning

Well. Sigismondi’s movie is not a sermon nor it is emo crap. She’s consequent in revealing identity problems, complicated relations with family and friends, difficulties with growing up and transforming into an adult, mature human being. And, although it’s not a psychological movie, I enjoyed this part a lot.
Joan Jett is a character that is particularly interesting for me since… awww, let’s be honest, she’s the only true musician out of the whole band (well, ok, Lita Ford is also great but she never became a major rock star in the sense Jett did). I loved the way Sigismondi portrayed her. She’s most confident of the whole band, most self-conscious and, also, most determined. She knows that music is her only chance to get away from poverty, broken family, all the problems of a low class environment. And, what I think Stewart does best, is the transformation from a teenage, rioting, white trash girl to a confident artist that is aware of what she is doing and what is she trying to reach.

Musically… well. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Runaways so I won’t bore you with whining about how Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning do a good job or a bad job singing the parts of Jett and Currie. The girls are not so bad but I wouldn’t be interested in buing the soundtrack. First of all, it lacks the original music composed by Lilian Berlin (a musician and Sigismondi’s partner), which – frankly – is just amazing! Secondly, when it comes to the Runaways… well… it’s just not my kind of music (although I’m into rock and I love Joan Jett) but personally… oh well… I guess the soundtrack to The Velvet Goldmine was much more interesting also in the terms of not only collecting the best hits of the era but also recording new songs by a non-existing band that pretended to be another band (however messed, postmodern and post-Baudrillardesque it may sound, LOL).

All in all, I was positively surprised with The Runaways. And I do hope Sigismondi will continue making movies, probably not only movies about musicians and music, although… deep down I have this small, tiny hope she will create something astonishing about one of the great rock stars (and truly, there are many of them) but using more of the dark atmosphere that is so typical of her amazing videos.


down, down, down, in the underground

4 Nov

It’s been a while since I wrote anything but I’ve got a simple explanation! Huh! Sure I did listen to some of the newest recordings, among them the newest album by Korn (Korn III: Remember Who You Are) but, since it was a bit disappointing (very rhythmical and very much in the style of older Korn recordings, true, still not melodical enough for me and I felt like listening to a badly made musical, that you do not remember a single tune from) I won’t write about Korn.

And – since lately I haven’t been listening to new recordings soooo much but rather got back to the oldies, yes, the oldies… here they come.

After I had finished watching the latest series of Mad Men I had a huge hunger for the music of 1960s. Mainly American and British music, of course (was there any other music at that time at all? Well… maybe except Serge Gainsbourg – but still, was there and is there any other music than American and, sometimes, British music? X-D)

Coming back to my favorite tunes of the 1960s wasn’t a very big deal since I was raised on prog rock and Frank Zappa (mainly). Jimi Hendrix, the Creedence Clearwater Revival, King Crimson or the Jefferson Airplane still remain one of my favorite artists. However, this summer I somehow turned to somewhat “lighter” music, most of which was soul and funk (which mainly meant long hours of listening to James Brown and Etta James).

And then it struck me. I don’t know how, I don’t know when. I just realized I was playing the same song on and on – Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground. And when I realized I listened to VU only, I just surrendered completely and right now I’ve been listening to the same four albums on and on every single day.

The Velvet Underground is a phenomenon on its own. It has as many followers and fans as those who openly hate the band and consider it, frankly, to be a pretty lame musical project. And, yes, perhaps musically there were better and much professional bands at the time. Still, for me the Velvet Underground is more a performance phenomenon than a musical one. Of course, I won’t argue here about the fact of how VU influenced all the other bands of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and even those who create music today. From Joy Division through the Jesus and Mary Chain even to Beck, from punk to grunge, the Velvet Underground remains one of the crucial points in history of popular music.

What strikes me when I read about the band and when I listen to their records is, of course, the influence of Andy Warhol and his Factory, the amazing lyrics of Lou Reed (who was studying literature), the imagination, inspirations and… how much this band is different from any other band of the 1960s. It’s clear to me that Jimi Hendrix or Frank Zappa are musical virtuosos and the Velvet Underground is pretty mediocre when it comes to their technical abilities. Still, it’s dark, it’s contagious, it’s inhabited by most weird characters, whores, small crooks, junkies, transvestites. Of course, much of this is because the band, at least in the beginning of their career, was strongly connected with Andy Warhol and, more or less, this is the enviroment of the famous Factory X-D However, to me the Velvet Underground seems to be kinda… Brechtian. Similar atmosphere, similar topics, weird stories, obsessive themes and similarly to the Kurt Weil/Bertold Brecht duo the Velvet Underground creates simple melodic lines which become extremely intense due to sharp and poignant lyrics. Of course, that doesn’t mean that VU means simple, pop songs and pop songs only. The Velvet Underground created much of the foundations for future genres of music such as punk, noise or even grunge. Plus, as most bands of the time, they were (at least sometimes) kinda psychedelic. Still… the weird fascination that has grown in me is mostly connected with the dark, gloomy side of the Velvet Underground. I don’t know, maybe cause I’m a Nine Inch Nails fan myself and I don’t have to mention that even NIN has much to owe to the VU?

What else has struck me is the feeling that in the world of the Vietnam War, student protesters in Berkeley, the Civil Rights Movement, drugs, Woodstock, free love and fighting against racism, sexism and all other kinds of -isms the Velvet Underground (as much as Andy Warhol and his Factory) remain… artificial. And I do not think of the negative meaning of the term. I’m thinking more of the theatrical aspect, the performance, the glam and the dark sides of being a celebrity. On one side of the stage you have Bob Dylan and Joan Baez who embody the “true” American spirit, the American freedom, the essence of its soil (with all the taste of the Frontier one can ever get in a lifetime, LOL). On the other side you’ve got someone who says: This is all fake. We are not even men or women, we are not even heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. We do drugs but we put make up on our faces and pretend to be glamorous. We’re all fake, our feelings are fake. The world is burninng? Who cares? Let’s fuck first and then get some heroin.

Of course, this is basically how I perceive the Velvet Underground and most of it is what I assume and what I imagine by listening to their music and viewing the few performances which were recorded and uploaded on youtube. You don’t have to agree with me. I do think, however, that both, Lou Reed and John Cale were completely conscious and aware of the rules of showbiz. But… let’s leave this thought for a while.

I will probably come back to this topic many more times. The Velvet Underground is a very complex phenomenon. But this won’t ever fit into one post. So, for now, let’s stick with whores, junkies, S/M, obsession, transgression and some gloomy moods – one of their best and so much different from other songs of the time; recorded in 1967. Venus in Furs.